There’s nothing like the promise of the NHL draft. There’s big-league potential locked up in each and every pick, and each and every NHL team leaves the annual prospect derby full of hope for the future.
Eventually, though, the cold, hard reality of it all sinks in. First-round picks skate the fine line between boom and bust, and depth selections come face to face with the daunting challenge of trying to break into the big leagues.
With the 2018 NHL draft fresh in our mind, here’s a team-by-team look at each NHL franchise’s best draft from 2000 through 2017, as well some other notable picks.
Best draft: This is an easy one. The Ducks snagged franchise cornerstones Ryan Getzlaf (19th overall) and Corey Perry (28th) in the first round of the 2003 draft, while also adding speedy fourth-liner Drew Miller (186th) and rugged defenseman Shane O’Brien (250th) in the later rounds.
Notable: Four of the five players Anaheim selected in 2014 have already played in the NHL (Nick Ritchie 10th, Marcus Pettersson 38th, Brandon Montour 55th, Ondrej Kase 205th) and three of them have already played more than 100 big-league games. The 2011 draft was even better, with all seven players Anaheim selected appearing in the NHL. The list includes Ducks mainstays Rickard Rakell (30th), John Gibson (39th) and Josh Manson (160th), plus breakout Vegas sniper William Karlsson (53rd).
Best draft: There’s no runaway winner, which goes a long way in explaining the Coyotes’ perpetual struggles. They grabbed Martin Hanzal (17th) and Keith Yandle (105th) in 2005, and that’s about as good as it gets. Perhaps one day we’ll look back at 2016 (Clayton Keller 7th, Jakob Chychrun 16th) or 2015 (Dylan Strome 3rd, Nick Merkley 30th, Christian Fischer 32nd) and reevaluate.
Notable: The 2003 draft was memorable because every prospect picked in the first round played in the NHL. Unfortunately for the Coyotes, their first selection didn’t come until 77th overall, when they took a center named Tyler Redenbach. He never made the big leagues -- and neither did anyone else that Arizona picked in 2003, going for 0-for-8 in the prospect derby.
Best draft: The Bruins have had their share of success at the draft table, but it’s hard to beat their performance in 2006 when they nabbed Phil Kessel (5th), Milan Lucic (50th) and Brad Marchand (71st).
Notable: Boston waited and snagged a couple of top-line centers in Patrice Bergeron (45th) in 2003 and David Krejci (63rd) in 2004. Nearly 15 years later, both players remain integral to the team’s fortunes. More recently, the 2014 draft crop looks promising, led by David Pastrnak (25th), Ryan Donato (56th), Danton Heinen (116th) and Anders Bjork (146th).
Best draft: The Sabres have had plenty of decent drafts, but none that rate as a home run. Longtime franchise faces Derek Roy (32nd) and Jason Pominville (55th), along with fourth-line journeyman Chris Thorburn (50th), were drafted in 2001. Jiri Novotny (22nd) was their first-round pick that year, but he never broke through in the NHL.
Notable: Jack Eichel (2nd) in 2015 and Rasmus Dahlin (1st) this year. So there’s hope, at least.
Best draft: The pickings are slim. Lots of role players, but not much star power. We’ll go with the 2011 crop, when all five players Calgary picked went on to play in the NHL, including fourth-rounder Johnny Gaudreau (104th).
Notable: Calgary basically struck out in back-to-back drafts in 2005 and 2006. Goalie Leland Irving (26th) was the only player picked by Calgary in 2006 who made it to the NHL, and he played just 13 games. In 2005, three Flames picks made the NHL, but Brett Sutter’s two goals in 60 big-league games is the high point.
Best draft: Some good drafts, but nothing great. They did well with their first two picks in 2010, selecting Jeff Skinner (7th) and Justin Faulk (37th), and their last pick that year was pretty good, too, even if Frederik Andersen (187th) didn’t sign with the Canes and re-entered the 2012 draft (going 87th to Anaheim).
Notable: Noah Hanifin (5th) and Sebastian Aho (35th) were Carolina’s top two picks in 2015, and might give the Skinner-Faulk duo a run for its money.
Best draft: The honor goes to 2003, when the Blackhawks took Brent Seabrook (14th), Corey Crawford (52nd) and Dustin Byfuglien (245th), plus four others who saw the NHL.
Notable: Things turned around for Chicago when they got Jonathan Toews (3rd) in 2006 and Patrick Kane (1st) in 2007. But it was a good thing the Hawks hit upon their superstar duo at the top of those respective drafts, because they didn’t pick anyone else who got anything more than a sniff in the NHL. In 2006, only one other Hawks pick made the NHL, and it was a guy named Peter Leblanc (186th) who played one game. In 2007, Billy Sweatt (38th) went on to play three NHL games, Akim Aliu (56th) eventually got into seven games.
Best draft: The Avs found a pair of top-six centers in Matt Duchene (3rd) and Ryan O’Reilly (33rd), as well as scoring defenseman Tyson Barrie (64th), in 2009. Only Barrie remains with the team, but still, that’s a pretty good haul.
Notable: Only three players drafted by the Avs since 2010 have made a lasting impact with the team, but you could do worse than Gabriel Landeskog (2nd in 2011), Nathan MacKinnon (1st overall in 2013) and Mikko Rantanen (10th in 2015). Of course, recent picks such as Tyson Jost (10th in 2016) and Cale Makar (4th in 2017) need more time to show what they’ve got.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Best draft: It’s a little too early to call it, but the Blue Jackets picked three defensemen in 2015 who could be a big part of the team’s blueline for the next decade or so – Zach Werenski (8th), Gabriel Carlsson (29th) and Markus Nutivaara (189th).
Notable: Columbus whiffed on an undersized winger in the first round in 2008 (Nikita Filatov, 6th), but plucked sub-six-footers Matt Calvert (127th) and Cam Atkinson (157th) in the later rounds.
Best draft: The Stars haven’t exactly twinkled at the draft. In fact, discovering Jamie Benn (129th) in the fifth round in 2007 might be enough on its own to make that year the team’s most successful draft effort of the millennium.
Notable: Matt Niskanen (28th), who just won the Stanley Cup with Washington, and James Neal (33rd), who suited up for Vegas and faced off against Niskanen in the final, were Dallas’ top two picks in 2005.
DETROIT RED WINGS
Best draft: They didn’t have a pick in the first round, but the Red Wings walked away from the 2002 draft with future NHL regulars Jiri Hudler (58th), Tomas Fleischmann (63rd), Valterri Filppula (95th) and Jonathan Ericsson (last overall at 291st), plus Derek Meech (229th).
Notable: The lack of a first-round pick has been a common theme in Detroit, including eight times in a 12-year span from 2001 through 2012.
Best draft: Unless they’ve had the No. 1 overall selection, which happened three years in a row from 2010 to 2012 and again in 2015 – hello, Connor McDavid – the words “best” and “draft” haven’t been associated with the Oilers all that often. So we’ll go with McDavid and whoever else makes it from the 2015 class.
Notable: Of the Oilers’ three No. 1 overall picks in 2010 (Taylor Hall), 2011 (Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) and 2012 (Nail Yakupov), only Nugent-Hopkins remains with the team. Edmonton got a third-round pick from St. Louis for Yakupov, and acquired defenseman Adam Larsson (4th overall in 2011) from New Jersey for newly minted league MVP Hall.
Best draft: Top-line forwards Jonathan Huberdeau (3rd) and Vincent Trochek (64th) both came courtesy of the 2011 draft, along with a handful of bubble big-leaguers.
Notable: In the three drafts spanning 2009 to 2011, 21 of Florida’s 30 drafts picks went on to play in the NHL.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
Best draft: Only two players drafted by the Kings in 2005 made it to the NHL, but those two players happened to be Anze Kopitar (11th) and Jonathan Quick (72nd).
Notable: Nobody drafted by Los Angeles in the past three years (20015 through 2017) has appeared in the NHL. Then again, L.A. only had one pick in the top 40 during that span – Gabriel Vilardi, who went 11th overall last year.
Best draft: The Wild’s original draft can’t be denied. Minnesota selected Marian Gaborik (3rd) and Nick Schultz (32nd) with the first two picks in franchise history. Both players have suited up for than 1,000 NHL games.
Notable: Minnesota drafted only four players in 2008. First-rounder Tyler Cuma (23rd) played just one NHL game, with Marco Scandella (55th) emerging as the lone legit NHLer.
Best draft: Montreal did well to bolster its lineup in 2007 with the selections of Ryan McDonagh (12th), Max Pacioretty (22nd), P.K. Subban (43rd) and Yannick Weber (73rd).
Notable: Since picking Carey Price (5th) in 2005, there isn’t a single first-round pick of consequence who’s still with the team. Obviously, there’s still time for recent first-rounders such as Nikita Scherback (26th, 2014), Noah Juulsen (26th, 2015) and Ryan Poehling (25th, 2017) to develop into impact players.
Best draft: This one’s a slam-dunk. The franchise’s defensive foundation was formed in 2003 with the selections of Ryan Suter (7th) and Shea Weber (49th), while Kevin Klein (37th) was plenty serviceable in his own right.
Notable: Speaking of defense, Nashville plucked Roman Josi (38th) in 2008 and then Ryan Ellis (11th) and Mattias Ekholm (102nd) in 2009. Not to mention, Seth Jones (4th) in 2013.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Best draft: The Devils were NHL draft darlings in the 1990s, but not so much during the past 20 years. They found four hard-rock types back in 2000, in David Hale (22nd), Paul Martin (62nd), Mike Rupp (76th) and Deryk Engelland (194th).
Notable: Only four players drafted by New Jersey since 2001 have played more than 400 NHL games (Zach Parise, 17th overall, 2003), Travis Zajac (20th, 2004), Adam Henrique (82nd, 2008) and Adam Larsson (4th, 2011).
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Best draft: Not only did the Isles land John Tavares (1st) in 2009, they also picked up Calvin de Haan (12th), Casey Cizikas (92nd) and Anders Lee (152nd).
Notable: New York did well in 2008, too, with Josh Bailey (9th), Travis Hamonic (53rd), Matt Martin (148th) and Jared Spurgeon (156th), all of whom have played more than 500 NHL games. The Islanders selected five other players that year who also made it to the NHL, although none of them played more than a season’s worth of games.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Best draft: The Rangers took goalie Al Montoya (6th) in the first round in 2004, for which they’d probably like a do-over. But getting Lauri Korpikoski (19th), Brandon Dubinsky (60th) and Ryan Callahan (127th) more than made up for it.
Notable: New York took two players in the later rounds in 2000 who were still playing in 2017-18 – Dominic Moore (95th) and, of course, franchise goalie Henrik Lundqvist (205th).
Best draft: Getting Erik Karlsson 15th overall in 2008 is Ottawa’s best quality pick of the past two decades, but it’s hard to argue with the quantity of NHL talent the team found in 2001. The Sens drafted Jason Spezza (2nd), Tim Gleason (23rd), Ray Emery (99th), Christoph Schubert (127th) and Brooks Laich (193rd) that year.
Notable: Led by Mika Zibanejad (6th), the first six players the Senators drafted in 2011 – and eight of their 10 picks -- all made it to the NHL.
Best draft: The Flyers picked Jeff Carter (11th) and Mike Richards (24th) in 2003, and their first six selections that year all saw the NHL.
Notable: In 2002, the year before their best draft, first-rounder Joni Pitkanen (4th) was the only Flyers pick to play in the NHL other than a one-game audition by Joey Mormina (193rd). In 2004, the year after their best draft, three Flyers picks made it to the NHL – but they only combined for a total of 23 career NHL games.
Best draft: 2005. Sidney Crosby (1st) and Kris Letang (62nd). Four years later, they were Stanley Cup champions.
Notable: The Penguins struck gold at the top of the draft three years in a row, with Evgeni Malkin (1st, 2004) and Jordan Staal (2nd, 2006) sandwiched around Crosby. But the year after picking Staal, Pittsburgh had one of its most famous draft whiffs, selecting Angelo Esposito (20th) in 2007. The junior prodigy sustained multiple injuries and never played a game in the NHL.
SAN JOSE SHARKS
Best draft: The Sharks found four players in the 2003 draft who have all seen more than 600 games of NHL action. Milan Michalek (6th), Steve Bernier (16th) and Matt Carle (47th) had respectable careers, but unearthing Joe Pavelski (205th) in the seventh round was the steal of the draft.
Notable: San Jose chose six players in 2001, and they all made the NHL, including three of whom played at least 400 games – Marcel Goc (20th), Christian Ehrhoff (106th) and Ryane Clowe (175th).
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Best draft: St. Louis had a pair of first-round picks in 2010 and made them count, nabbing Jaden Schwartz (14th) and Vladimir Tarasenko (16th). Nobody else from the Blues’ draft crop in 2010 has seen the NHL, but a couple of first-liners is more than enough.
Notable: The Blues drafted T.J. Oshie (24th) in the first round in 2005 and Lars Eller (13th) in the first round in 2007. They were teammates on Washington’s Cup-winning roster this spring. Along with Oshie, St. Louis also picked Ryan Reaves (156th) in 2005, and, along with Eller, St. Louis also picked David Perron (26th) in 2007. They were teammates on Vegas’ Cup-losing roster this spring.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Best draft: Tampa Bay hit pay dirt in 2011 with the selections of Vladislav Namestnikov (27th), Nikita Kucherov (58th) and Ondrej Palat (208th), and all six players they selected that year made it to the NHL.
Notable: The Lightning endured a dry spell at the draft from 2000 through 2006. The best player they picked was Paul Ranger (183rd in 2002), and only two other players drafted in that span appeared in more than 200 NHL games (Nick Tarnasky, 287th in 2003; Mike Lundin, 102nd in 2004).
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Best draft: The Leafs have had multiple drafts where they uncovered decent NHL talent but nothing extraordinary. In other years, especially in recent drafts, they’ve hit upon some great talent in the first round but the jury is still out on their depth picks. So, best draft? How about Tuukka Rask (21st) early and Anton Stralman (216th) late in 2005?
Notable: Six of Toronto’s seven selections in 2006 went on to play in the NHL – and five of them have played more than 300 NHL games -- but their best selection was the last one, Leo Komarov (180th).
Best draft: The Canucks found four bona fide NHLers in 2004 with the selections of Cory Schneider (26th), Alexander Edler (91st), Mike Brown (159th) and Jannik Hansen (287th). Worth noting: the Sedins went second and third overall in 1999, so they don’t count for the purposes of this exercise.
Notable: Vancouver could’ve skipped the NHL draft for five straight years, from 2007 through 2011, and it wouldn’t have really mattered. The best player they picked in that time was Cody Hodgson (10th in 2008), and he rates as a draft bust.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
Best draft: They seemed to do OK in the expansion draft last year, so we’ll go with that.
Notable: The Golden Knights had three first-rounders in their first-ever NHL draft in 2017, scooping up promising prospects in Cody Glass (6th), Nick Suzuki (13th) and Erik Brannstrom (15th). They also nabbed Nicolas Hague (34th) early in the second round.
Best draft: We’ll go with 2006, when Washington collected Nicklas Backstrom (4th), Semyon Varlamov (23rd), Michal Neuvirth (34th) and Mathieu Perreault (177th). But getting Alex Ovechkin (1st) and Mike Green (29th) in 2004 wasn’t bad, either.
Notable: The Caps’ first-round pick in 2008 didn’t work out, as Anton Gustafsson (21st) never made it to the NHL. But bringing in John Carlson (27th) and Braden Holtby (93rd) went a long way to delivering the team’s 2018 championship.
Best draft: Since moving to Winnipeg in 2011, the Jets have been able to cash in on a jackpot player in the first round every year. Mark Scheifele (7th) was seen as a bit of a reach in Winnipeg’s first draft in 2011, but turned out to be a very prescient pick. The following year, the Jets added Jacob Trouba (9th) and Connor Hellebuyck (130th).
Notable: Winnipeg picked up Kyle Connor (17th) and Jack Roslovic (25th) in the first round in 2015, and both players are coming off solid rookie seasons (especially Connor, who led all NHL freshmen with 31 goals).